NDG mural honours Nicholas Gibbs as community calls for change

Dozens gathered Saturday to remember young Black father shot and killed by police It's been three years since 23-year-old Nicholas Gibbs, a father of three children, was shot and killed by police in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood.

Saturday afternoon, a mural remembering Gibbs was unveiled on the bike path where he was hit by two bullets, near the corner of de Maisonneuve Boulevard and Montclair Avenue.

On either side of a stencil painting of his face the mural reads, "Nicholas Gibbs was a man." It has white footsteps showing where Gibbs tried to walk away from police and blue ones representing the four officers standing around him the night he died.

Members of the local Black community say there's still a lot of work to be done to change the way police interact with Black people and people with mental health issues.

Gibbs's death was investigated by Quebec's police watchdog, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI). No charges were laid.

Police said Gibbs was coming at them with a knife and the officers opened fire after a failed initial attempt to subdue him with a taser and pepper spray.

His family filed a $1 million lawsuit against the city of Montreal arguing that police used "excessive and disproportionate force" against him.

Strength in community

René Bernal, director of operations for Notre-Dame-des-Arts, one of the organizations behind the mural, says Saturday's event was about paying respect to Gibbs and reiterating calls for change.

"This is not the first one and it feels like it won't be the last one," said Bernal, referring to Black men who have been killed by police in Montreal.

"We decided to create this project … to show our respect, to show our strength within the community," he said, "standing up for the memory of somebody who mattered."

Dozens of people came out to the ceremony, some shedding tears as they listened to poetry, musical performances and heard from Gibbs's mother Erma Gibbs.

Bernal says the mural and the ceremony were part of a partnership with the National Film Board. The NFB is producing a documentary about the life of Nicholas Gibbs, the circumstances surrounding his death and how police practices need to change.
Stefan Verna works with the National Film Board and is directing a documentary about the life of of Nicholas Gibbs and the need for police reform. The film Night Watches Us is set to be released next year. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

"This film is called Night Watches Us," said director Stefan Verna. "[It's]...about how Black bodies are policed, especially at night when Nicholas was killed."

Verna says the Black people feel police often act with impunity and aren't equipped to deal with people who are in the midst of a mental health crisis.

He hopes the film, set to be released in 2022, will spark a conversation. More importantly, he says he would like that conversation to lead to a re-examination of policing as a whole.

"The story starts with Nicholas but really is about all of us," he said, "and it's through the power and resilience of families and community that [we'll] come together to fight for police reforms."


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